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The Historical Roles of Women: Not As Straightforward As We Thought?

I recently came across this article that truly fascinated and intrigued me. For my entire life, I've been an avid lover of history. I've always enjoyed reading about it, learning more, and furthering my understanding of history and the many complicated perspectives and points of view surrounding various people and events.

It is generally thought that all throughout history, women have played subservient roles. This is something that seems widely accepted when I hear other people talk about women in history. I always hear people saying "women couldn't be in any positions of power and only recently gained any sort of freedom." But was that truly the case? Surely not ALL women were forced to be submissive in every society and culture in history, right? This new finding (linked in the article above) demonstrates that women WERE able to fulfill other roles in some cultures, as DNA has proven, even against the odds.

The Historical Roles of Women: Not As Straightforward As We Thought?

A Viking gravesite, widely assumed to be that of a powerful male warrior, has now been examined and found to be a woman! Yes, a woman in a position of power. In fact, the article claims that archaeologists believe she was an advanced tactician on the battlefield and was a strong leader. This has actually shocked many people who formerly believed that only men served in warrior positions among the Vikings.

When examining other cultures though, we can find many instances of women in positions of power, influence, and leadership roles.

Joan of Arc

The Historical Roles of Women: Not As Straightforward As We Thought?

Joan of Arc was a legendary female warrior and later, became a Roman Catholic saint. At a young age, her visions of the Archangel Michael inspired her to assist in the military of France's King Charles VII in the later days of the Hundred Years' War. Her influence ended the Siege of Orleans in nine days. Even after her death, her strategies helped influence the French battle model.

Nakano Takeko

The Historical Roles of Women: Not As Straightforward As We Thought?

Nakano Takeko was a female samurai who fought in the Boshin War. She was raised and taught martial arts from a young age. Even though technically women were not allowed to fight in battles, Nakano formed an unofficial unit of twenty women, including her mother and sister. At the Battle of Aizu in 1868, the group took part in a counter-attack against the Imperial Japanese Army during which Nakano killed five enemy opponents before taking a fatal bullet to the chest. She is still respected and honored by girls today.

Queen Boudicca

The Historical Roles of Women: Not As Straightforward As We Thought?

Queen Boudicca was the wife of the king of the Celtic tribe Iceni. In her widowhood, she became a warrior. When her husband died, it was in his will that his kingdom be given jointly to his daughters and his ally, the Roman Empire. However, the Roman Empire did not recognize a daughter's right to inherit and so they invaded the kingdom to take full control. They tortured Boudicca and raped her daughters. So in 60 A.D., Boudicca called on her tribe and other allies to unite and push the Roman Empire out of their lands.

Her army was a force to be reckoned with, they destroyed countless Roman cities and slaughtered thousands of people. However, eventually, the Romans were able to defeat her. She surely was determined to put up a fight though and is still thought of today as a prominent warrior. In 1902, a bronze statue called Boadicea and Her Daughters was erected at the western side of Westminster Bridge in London.

Gudit

The Historical Roles of Women: Not As Straightforward As We Thought?

Gudit was a powerful Queen who ruled Ethiopia around 960 A.D. Her activities have been recorded in oral tradition and also in various historical records. It is believed that she killed the Emperor and took his throne where she reigned for 40 years. She also destroyed countless churches and monuments. Stories of her power, violence, and history are still told by people in the North Ethiopian communities. European, Arabic and African historians still debate her life and possible motives for her actions to this day.

Sure, these are only a few examples of the millions of women who existed in the past, but doesn't it show that maybe women, at least to a certain extent, weren't AS subservient and had more of an influence in history than some claim? You be the judge.


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Most Helpful Guy

  • I'll have to look into some of the other ladies you mentioned!
    Joan was a sad tale in that after all that she did she ended up being tried as a heretic and burned at the stake.

    It's been widely believed for quite a while that the viking shield maidens could reach equitable status as their male peers, but I would also point out the ferocity of the gaul women in antiquity, and the Kurdish women today.

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    • Yeah, it's really sad that Joan's story ended that way, but I'm glad people finally realized her great influence, even though it didn't happen until after her death.

Most Helpful Girl

  • In a general sense throughout history a lot of women didn't fight. Some did, but not a lot did. Yes, some viking women did fight, but the vikings were only around for like 300 years. Guys are built more for combat, and I do believe girls can fight or lead, but I can understand why guys would be the primary choice at the same time.

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What Guys Said 30

  • First up. The viking article you mention has a LOT of issues... including the fact that the bones DNA tested were probably not the bones of the famous grave. They apparently got mixed in with about 40 other skelletons, and they were not particularly carefull with their labeling, record keeping or reconstruciton when pulling them out of storage.
    Indeed a lot of the politicisation of "shieldmaidens" has prooven to be grossly inacurate. Such as any body found with a weapon being declared a warrior (regardless of geneder) despite the fact even children and babies from respectable households were often burried with weapons. One might suggest it was a common gravegood for anyone of a certain class.
    Yes throughout history there have been a lot of powerful women, and there have been many female warriors (though perhaps the majority disguised their sex). Some cultures indeed have fewer issues with it (I understand at one point it was acceptible for an unmarried woman to serve as an archer in china for instance).

    A betterpoint regarding "subservience" though is that it's a misconception. For most of european history women have had a lot of power. Traditionally women have complete control over the home (yes even over their husband) and can naturally excercise a degree of power through him.
    Gender roles were generally more restrictive, but they were for both sexes. Men were required to fight and die, and to provide for the family, and for their lord. Still despite that throughout the medieval period we have evidence of female buisness owners and craftspeople. In the 1100s its likely more noble women could read than noblemen. And when king John tried to preasure widows into remarrying (because widows didn't have to perform military duty and could hold their dead-husband's lands until they remarried or an appropriate heir could be found) it started a bloody and violent rebelion.
    And beyond that strong women like Maud/Matilda d'Braose (who once lead the defense of her home for three weeks until aid came during which over 3000 Welsh attackers were killed) attacking and Eleanor of Aquitain (who was putting on armour and leading armies well into her 80s) prove that women could command respect in male fields as well as the household or the bitter mess of politics.

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  • Let's not forget the greatest example of what happens when women with a warrior mentality rule over a society. Namely, Ancient Sparta. There, only Spartan boys who were subjected to institutional infanticide; Spartan girls went straight into the care of their mothers after birth instead. And all males were placed in the Agoge to enter military training from the age of 7, bound into pederastic gay relationships with older males from the age of 12, and only granted the right to marry and become Spartan citizens from the age of 30- provided that they managed to unanimously gain a place on one of the messes, along with acknowledgement as 'REAL MEN', by that time- if they failed to do so, they'd be relegated to either the Perioeci or the Helots, who were tasked with all of Sparta's manufacturing and agricultural output. And while they had the rights to vote and hold office once (if) they did, Spartan men weren't given even basic literacy skills as part of their state educations. In stark contrast, Spartan girls were allowed to live with their mothers (who had exclusive child custody, with no biological paternal rights for Spartan men at all), and they received state educations, which included literacy skills and the arts, as well as physical education and sports.

    The Spartan exercise regimen for girls was designed to make them "every bit as fit as their brothers", and the girls were also encouraged to 'help' the males- doing so by humiliating them in public, and by criticizing their exercising at every opportunity. Spartan men were legally obligated to marry, and they weren't allowed to divorce women for any reason; Spartan women, on the other hand, had the freedom to choose whether they wanted to marry or not, could divorce men and remarry as many times as they wanted, with 100% alimony each time, and were infamously promiscuous, even practicing polyandry.

    Helots (both enslaved peoples and males who'd washed out of the Agoge system) took care of all manual labor and domestic tasks for Free Spartan women, who were instead free to occupy themselves with governance, logistics, finance and enjoyment. Spartan men were too busy being indoctrinated feminists' child soldiers to be a part of the rest of society; it was Spartan women who enforced social consequences for those who didn't fall in line, killing their 'cowardly' sons if they refused to lay down their lives for the glory of Sparta.

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    • Spartan women certainly had control over whether Spartan newborns lived or died, and given that only Spartan females appear to have had their rights to life, freedom of speech and freedom of choice respected, with Spartan males denied all of these human rights, I'd be inclined to argue that Ancient Sparta's probably the closest thing to a real world historical example of a Matriarchal state that we have, a historical civilization in which women had near-total freedom, along with near-absolute power over finance, trade, commerce, politics, and even over life and death for their men. That's what they did with those privileges. And many of the same policies enacted by Ancient Sparta are being fiercely advocated for and brought back into effect today, by their modern day feminist successors. So not, it's certainly not as straightforward as you think. Because the most female-dominated civilization in history was also one of the most violent, warmongering and dystopian of all time.

    • Yes I did hear of Sparta but didn't know the details. That's quite an interesting take, we never really hear about it.
      Though of course, there have been patriarchal states that were equally as dystopian, violent and war mongering. Heavily segregated societies, or societies making ample use of brainwashing and indoctrination have never done very well on the humane and human rights side of things.

      I wouldn't jump straight to the 'see thats what women do when they get power!' thing, cause Stalin was a man, and thats not universally what men do when they get into power.

      But its still a very interesting example we're never taught much about.

  • I sometimes watch the “old” game shows on tv - stuff from the fifties or sixties. The stereotype is the man always worked and the woman was the housewife and made the house a home, and rarely held down a “real job.” With the exception of maybe Secretary, or teacher.

    But a LOT of women had regular jobs - interesting jobs. Fun jobs. Positions that were impressive (or at least sound impressive). Private Detective. Bailbondsman (bondswoman?). It wasn’t limited to teacher or housewife. Many times, both husband and wife worked.

    I also noticed that on one episode of a game show, (To Tell the Truth, I believe) one of the decoys said “I’m JUST a housewife from (city), and the host corrects her. “Never say “just” a housewife... it’s a VERY important job.”

    Very “progressive” from the stereotype of the 1950’s dynamic... that a housewife or stay at home mom IS an important job worth a lot of respect and that plenty of men recognized it. To hear some people from that time, it was that the husband was a selfish ass who did the work they hated, and the wives had to suffer through his behavior all the time. Yes, there was plenty of that back then. But there were plenty of women with impressive jobs and plenty of husbands, who, even if their wives didn’t bring back a paycheck, recognized that there was work involved in keeping up a home.

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  • Little known fact... the "enlightenment" was actually the movement that placed women into the setting of subservient housewife. The enlightenment was a movement all about "reason." It saw men as the epitome of reason and women as that of emotion making women illogical, making women less than men. Until then most women who were wives acted as equals with their husbands. They were most often seen as partners working together. When men would go off voyages to make trade deals the business would be completely run by the wife.

    People make the mistake of assuming that simply because men were seen as the primary leaders, and were often considered the "heads of the family" that women were seen as less than or simply slaves different only in name. On the contrary most women were treated with the highest respect before the enlightenment and were seen very much as man's equal. They had the right idea of seeing men and women as different yet equal. We assume they were primitive, but no, they had the basics down better than we ever have. xD

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  • Very good Take, of course, there were some other examples like Yim Wing Chun, Empress Catherine the Great, Pharaohness Hatshepsut, Artemisia I of Caria, Camilla of Volsci and many others.

    www.shanwuwingchun.com/.../Yim-Wing-Chun.jpg

    www.slavorum.org/.../...rine-the-Great-758x511.jpg

    img.wondercostumes.com/.../...d-Sculpture-Pic1.jpg

    img00.deviantart.net/.../..._gambargin-d7m9h9u.jpg

    1.bp.blogspot.com/.../camilla.jpg

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What Girls Said 11

  • The thought of warrior women is nice but likely very rare. Despite this i'm sure my female ancestors were immensely strong willed and great survivalists, simply because they didn't have any other choice. And that is incredible and honourable.

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  • A misconception on our part. The society then was made to believe that the only roles women played were cooking and looking pretty.

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  • @It is generally thought that all throughout history, women have played subservient roles

    not by people who study history.

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  • They still ended pretty badly but that's how I'd go out, someone raped my kids I'd take as many of them with me as I could.

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  • It was dad how Joan of arcs people betrayed her to the English to get her burned as a witch.

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