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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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  • There were TOTALLY badass women in History, but you have to look at the ratio. If you really dig, and scrounge, and spend years and years researching, you could probably find hundreds, maybe thousands of Historical examples of powerful and influential women and warrior women and what have you.

    Whereas you could find millions and millions and millions and millions and millions of examples of men doing the same, and if you really dug, and scrounged, and researched, you could easily find billions and billions. Think about looking at just one country alone, like Russia, or France, just one country would have hundreds of millions of Historical heroes who were men.

    How many women, again? You came up with five, I've seen a few similar articles that might have 10, 20, or 50. And beyond the top three, they have to get REALLY obscure.

    You could walk up to any dummy on the street who doesn't know a lick of History and ask them to name male Historical figures off the top of their head and I'm sure that once you got them going with a few examples, (Napoleon, George Washington, Ghandi, etc.) Most people could probably sit there and name hundreds of male Historical figures right off the top of their head.

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  • Generally speaking women where not warriors or tacticians. In fact most of those Viking women "warriors" are being questioned as not one of them shows signs of combat damage which makes them highly questionable. However yes women where in positions of power all the time, this idea that women where beaten slaves is laughable, women always had power, women where queens, women where advisors and mothers, women helped maintain the community. Just because her position was different then a mans doesn't mean she was less then a man, that's just something that modern day people have come up with to justify hating the feminine (seriously, what job is more important then raising children? The next generation of your society and your link to the future?). As for the rest, yes it happened but it was not particularly common as women generally are risk averting and being in positions of power or being in the military was very dangerous.

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    • I know it wasn't super common, my point was just that there were more women in leadership positions and influential roles (whether good or bad) than many people today probably realize. It's just an interesting topic to study and learn more about.

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    • @Jayson101 Never said women where not people, that's a straw man argument. What I stated is women where equal to men but it was believed that we had separate spheres where we where most capable. Those spheres of influence where based upon our physiological differences which are quite apparent both in basic visual observation of our anatomies as well as our behaviors. Our brain structures are different, our body is structured completely differently and as such it made sense that we divide our labor and responsibilities up to best utilize those differences. It would not make sense to expect a woman to be a laborer if a man is over 50% stronger. It wouldn't make sense to expect women to be protectors when men have greater strength, denser and stronger bones, 25% more collagen in the skin (making it thicker), fewer pain receptors and a greater tolerance for negative stimuli hence women in the military being 2x more likely to develop PTSD

    • @Jayson101 even when they where not on the front lines like the men where. Just as that doesn't make sense it wouldn't make sense to have men raise children who need to breast feed which only women can do, when women birthed those children which was straining the body and would put them out of "commission" for quite some time (historically a death sentence hence it being discouraged to have children when you where not married and thus had a male around to provide for you while you couldn't). It wouldn't make sense for a man who by his nature is more reserved (because of his tendency towards protector) be the one to nurture, to be the nurturer even though women have better socialization then men. So again, different spheres of influence, both absolutely vital both of equal value, but different. Women where respected through out all of history and the claim otherwise is absurd (why do you think every noble attribute is represented as a woman (justice, freedom, liberty)?

  • You forgot Cleopatra, probably one of the most notable ones who ruled over Egypt for 21 years.
    Empress Cixi in China who rule over the entire Chinese empire for 47 years.
    Catherine de Medicis who was an incredibly powerful woman in her time in Europe.

    There's probably many more. But women have not always been subservient or wielded no power in society. Though I do think overall women in modern western societies in general have more freedom than they have had in the past.

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    • No one had freedom in times past by todays understanding. By their own understanding both men and women were quite free. Women just took care of home and hearth more often because they were better suited. They brewed beer and made clothes and were respected for their position in society. They were artists and inventors and business owners (not so much architects or scientists) but those were not their primary value in those days. Women were valued for different things.

      In the 19th century things were very mach and the concept of the feets of history as' male' emerged.

  • Wait, so which is it? Women were awesome warrior leaders throughout history or they have been oppressed by men since the dawn of time? It keeps changing so often I forget.

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    • Whichever it is, women will never be satisfied. They want to be warrior princesses, but at the same time wanna play the victim when they don't get what they want out of life.

    • HA, it's like Bill Burr said: "There are no feminists in a house fire!"

    • @ErnestSamuels. Or a real household...

  • Nothing more sexy than a girl who has a set of brass balls, if I'm not around I know she would die protecting our children. I feel proud of my Norse ancestry, we had a better for of justice then the Romans had.

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  • No, the historical role of women is exactly what it was.

    Those are just a few notable examples from the norm, also some of the information you've given is just flat out wrong.

    Like the viking grave sight that your article claims that archaeologists believe she was an advanced tactician on the battlefield and was a strong leader.

    There is absolutely no way an archaeologist could know whether or not some female skeleton was a advanced tactician and strong leader, that is just complete bullshit.

    And I am sorry to say but when it comes to battle and war males as a whole are far superior to women in every possible way, we're actually built and designed for it. women are not nor are they optimized for it.

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    • Women are pushed into positions of military power on rare circumstances. And they are pushed due to complicated political factors. It is not their default position. Both Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots were due to very uneasy relations between the catholics and Protestants and the lack of a male hier from Henry VIII.

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    • @Jayson101 And that changes what I've said how?

    • I never said it did change what you said

  • Agreed. I'm not on-board with the whole "men have been oppressing women since the dawn of time" narrative.

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  • Woman can totally do these things... but they aren't optimized for them. An elf can be fitted for melee combat, but they make better mages and archers

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  • Is this the shield-maiden thing again?

    Throughout history there certainly are cases of women fighting in war, but these are typically not as the aggressors; when the rest of the men are dead and an army is coming to kill, rape and pillage, well, if you've nowhere to flee then your only choice is to fight.

    The sad fact is that women are just not built for combat. It's physics: when a wall of armoured men wielding shields and swords is charging towards you, you'd rather someone capable of exerting an equal (or greater) amount of force was standing against them. Typically, women can't do that.

    Can't produce as much force as the guy charging at you? You're dead. Worse, your fellow soldiers are dead.

    We're trying to force a historical view that matches our current gender politics and it's weird. They weren't like that, they had a very different culture to ours.

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  • No one said females can't do it but issa fact when it comes to war males do it better.

    Damn sounds sexist asf but its facts

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  • 130lb girl like Lagertha vs. 200lb guy, swinging metal at each other. Do you really think there's any competition there? We have elite female fighters today in sports such as the UFC - why do you think they fight in a separate division to men? Because otherwise they'd be completely overpowered - by guys their own weight. Anybody with any knowledge of combat knows that this is mostly bullshit. The only way women can be close to equal with men in combat is with guns because they don't rely on physical strength.

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  • Joan of Arc was a legendary female warrior and later, became a Roman Catholic saint. Indeed. I doubt the legend the RC church transmitted about her.

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  • Also look into Queen Elizabeth I, Empress Maria Theresa, and plenty of others.

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  • "Gudit was a powerful Queen who ruled Ethiopia around 960 A. D. Her activities have been recorded in oral tradition"

    I love when people say "oral tradition" instead of "this place wasn't advanced enough to have writing and written history."

    And while Joan of Arc certainly became more historically famous than 99.9% of men will ever be, you do realize she never fought in combat or killed anyone, right? She was literally a teenage peasant girl who claimed to hear God and was briefly in the army, sort of like a mascot.

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  • Damn that wasn't as straightforward as I thought it was

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

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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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  • yeah but the number of women compared to men is much lower.

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  • How come you not mention Hypatia, and the female pharaohs?

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  • This stuff is know (at least it been years I'm aware of it).

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  • i didn't know takeko... she's cool thanks

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  • I like this myTake

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  • Sorry but all these women are exceptions not the rule.

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    • I never claimed they were the rule. The point is, it was possible and it happened. And as we're learning more and more about history and new things are being discovered, it allows for discussions of the past and what it was like. I find it interesting which is why I shared this.

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