OPINION: The Girls Are Not Alright

By: Naomi Metoyer
Opinion Section Editor

Ultimately, it is the stories told to those after us that will preserve our memory. But as one of my favorite quotes goes, “History is written by the survivors,” and in some iterations, “History is written by the victors.”

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Photo Credit: Twitter, Jennifer Nettles

If this is so, why are so many important stories left to the mercy of time? Why are the stories of women so often forgotten, tainted, or twisted? We make up so much of what is humanity, we are the lifeblood of revolutions and breakthroughs and unmatched genius, and yet it seems our grand feats will never hold enough weight in these history books of men, for men, and by men.

I believe that maybe history has truly been written by the victors, for has it not been true that the stories of survivors–us women–have been silenced by the men who intend to erase our strength from all memory in order to make other women believe strength is not a characteristic our weak minds are naturally accustomed to.

You see, this is the issue with the erasure of female stories in the media and in history. As I detailed in my article An Analysis of Feminism, people often find issue with female stories for the way they are portrayed. Whether it be the way they are unrealistic–and thus antifeminist–in modern media, or for the simple fact that many don’t like the surge of female stories that have become heard in recent years, it is not hard to find critics, in the least.

Yet for most of history, women have not been portrayed heroes, saviors, warriors, inventors, or any other type of leader. And when I say this, a lot of folks will think, “That’s not true! There are plenty of examples of famous women.” To this, I say yes, there have been just as many as there have been men, though unless you are someone who actively looks for such stories, it is likely you never hear the amazing things the women before us have accomplished.

In school, you probably heard of Cleopatra, Harriet Tubman, Joan of Arc, and Queen Elizabeth. Maybe. Yet, where were all these stories? Small sections at the back of textbooks labeled “women in this period” or “advances for women” as if to appease the half of the population that is entirely glazed over in our recorded histories. It seems to me whoever is writing these books needs to do better. They need to do a lot better for most groups if we’re honest.

Where are the stories of the countless women who led countries, kingdoms, empires? Empress Wu of the Ancient Chinese Empire, Katherine the Great of Russia, Queen Amina of Zaria, Maria Theresa of Austria, Theodora of the Byzantine Empire, Queen Isabella of Spain, Boudicca of Britannia, Empress Nefertari of Egypt, Empress Candace of Ethiopia. But you never hear of them.

The thing is, female strength is not as it is portrayed. Female leaders in history, in modern times, are not rare, but rather underscored and unrecognized.

Mulan has always been my favorite Disney Princess. I thought her story, either told briefly in grade school or through the animated lens of a big screen, was epic, everything I wanted in a role model. I saw myself in her more than I could ever see in any male figure, no matter his heroics or honor. You could say I saw her in my reflection.

But where I was failed is that I believed as a young girl that Mulan was special, unique in her quest to show the world she could fight and outsmart the men opposing her. That was never true. There are women in every corner of history who tested their will and proved themselves hard enough for the trials of war, the world’s tragedies, and countless other hardships as much as any man.

I knew Paul Revere’s name, knew he’d warned the American countryside that the British were coming, but not one history book recorded the women, Sybil Ludington and Kate Barry, at the very least, who did exactly the same for the war effort. I never heard a thing about any of the countless–and I mean countless–women who served in armies all over the world in all periods of history. We hear of Joan of Arc and Mulan, and are told this is enough. There are female warriors in the history books, you know, here and there.

This is an issue for reasons beyond explanation. The history of our people should be an accurate one, the good with the bad, the great women up there alongside the great men. The young girls of every upcoming generation deserve to know just how strong they are, and don’t we all deserve someone like us to look up to?

Below are just a few examples of female pioneers, leaders, and revolutionaries who challenged the ideas placed on them by society and showed the world what a woman is really made out of, those whose stories are never told:

  • Molly Williams was the first female firefighter.
  • (a couple of Naomi’s personal favorites) Mary Read and Anne Bonny were female pirates who dressed as men and who were just as renowned for their ruthlessness as for their gender. You can read more about these two here.
  • Baya Mahieddine was a 16-year-old Algerian girl whose works inspired Picasso and Matisse.
  • Patsy T. Mink was the first woman of color/Asian American to be elected to Congress.
  • Tai Heong Kong Li was the first woman to practice Western medicine in Hawaii.
  • Wu Zetian was the first and only female emperor in China.
  • Flossie Wong-Staal discovered AIDS/HIV and created a molecular knife that led to the treatment of those diseases.
  • Florence Howe was the creator of The Feminist Press, a women’s rights house that boosted the female voice.
  • Grace Hopper enlisted in the Navy during WWII and was a programmer that led the compiler or computer languages known as COBOL that is used to this day.
  • Susan La Flesche became the first Native American physician after white doctors refused to treat Native Americans, and treated around 1,300 people.
  • CJ Walker became a millionaire off of hair care for African Americans.
  • Temple Grandin was an autistic woman that created the hug machine designed to help autistic people calm down as well as various animal handling inventions, her most famous being the stairway to heaven for cows that were being wrongly treated on their way to being put down. The way the machine calmed the cows down before death bettered their taste and was much more humane than previous methods, she has a movie that really gives you a good perspective on autism, her struggle, and how much her inventions impacted the meat industry and animal rights.  
  • (One of my favorites) Julie D’Aubigny was an opera singer and expert duelist who seduced women at parties before killing their offended husbands in a duel.
  • Annie Oakley was a sharpshooter that beat Frank E. Butler at the age of 15.
  • Nanye-hi helped the Cherokee in a fight against the Creeks, she chewed lead for bullets and after her husband was shot she joined in on the fight and later took part in treaty talks.
  • Margaret Hamilton, like Katherine Johnson, played a vital role in getting America to the moon.
  • Edmondia Lewis was the first female sculptor of both Native American and African American heritage.
  • Lozen was a Native American warrior whose hands tingled whenever a foe was near.  
  • Dorothy Lawrence disguised herself as a man and fought in WWI.
  • Deborah Sampson dressed up as a man during the revolutionary war to fight.
  • Molly Pitcher carried water during the same war and took over for her husband when he was no longer able to fight.
  • Margaret Cochran Crobin was the first woman to receive a military pension, she also joined in the revolutionary war to provide food and water for soldiers but ended up loading cannons after her husband died.
  • In that same war, Sybil Ludington alerted the militia of incoming British forces.
  • In that same war, Nancy Hart outsmarted and killed loyalists.
  • In that same war, Lydia Darragh crossed British lines and collected information for George Washington.
  • In that same war, Kate Barry both worked as a spy and warned the militia of upcoming British soldiers.
  • In that same war, Ann Bates worked as a spy.

It’s ridiculous how much longer I could go on, but here is a list of women’s firsts in history if you want to know more.

To read more about other women who fought in the revolutionary war click here and here.  

Click here for a list of even more extraordinary women.

Bonnie Tsui also wrote an entire book on women who were in the Civil War called She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers in the Civil War.

You see, before recently, I had no knowledge of any of these women’s existences. I was, like all little girls of this earth, deprived for so long of the stories of my sisters that the possibility of such tales were overwhelming to hear.

My entire life I was taught that to be a “strong female” I had to act like a man. Be physically strong, emotionally untouchable, and intimidating. To be the force I knew I could be, I had to model the men of history for they were the ones who changed the world.

This was never true. It still isn’t. It was never a man’s world, they just kept telling everyone it was. It’s the perfect time for us women to assert ourselves for the powerhouses we have always been, even when they didn’t write us into the history books as such.

Kayla Robinson contributed to this report.