#6 Women Who Made History

Why is it so hard to find them in historical articles?

If a kid is asked to give an example of a famous historical figure saw on scholarly books, they will be able to answer easily, however, they’ll mostly think of masculine ones. Why does this happen? Because of the social foundation that was built, where women were always classified as the fragile sex.

In the Dark Ages, theologians and the Catholic Church questioned if women had a soul as men did, or if they were like the other animals that didn’t rationalize. Moreover, because of their knowledge about medicinal herbs and science, a lot of women were thought to be witches at that time. For this reason, they were persecuted, drowned, and burned. The Church believed a woman couldn't know so much without the use of dark magic, something that was against their moral code.

Furthermore, in ancient civilizations, women weren’t even allowed to speak for themselves. It was all up to men, they were the ones who took all of the decisions. Unfortunately, women didn’t have freedom of speech or any kind of freedom for that matter. They were forced to always obey, and if they didn’t, it could cost them their dignity or even their life. For example, in Ancient Rome the "Manus Conduct" limited women’s lives to their house space. Also, in Classical Athens, women weren’t considered citizens, they had no power, only men had political rights.

Now, it’s easier to understand the reason why it’s so hard to find them on historical records. Society always treated them as inferiors, threatening the lives of those who dared to claim their rights with a lot of unethical laws. Back in the Imperial Brazil days, a man was allowed to punish his wife if he thought it was needed. And let's not forget about Legitimate Defense of Honor, a legal Brazilian term used to justify feminicide, which was only prohibited this year. Violence was always the key to oppress and silence women – whether with verbal, moral, or physical aggression.

open books on a table Photo by Patrick Tomasso from Unsplash

Resilience and protagonism

Although society keeps trying to silence us, it can’t. Both in the past and nowadays, many amazing women are the prime example of “girl power”. With a huge strength, they were able to make history recognize their value. We have to be thankful for those ladies who fought for the rights that we have today. Besides, we have to use them as inspirations to keep fighting against the violence directed at women, because there’s still a long way until we reach equality.

The presence of women in the most various moments of history shouldn’t be overlooked. For this fact, here are some examples of women who excelled in science, literature, politics, and art:

  1. 1. Hypatia

    Hypatia is considered to be the first mathematic woman in history. Back in the Hellenist Period, she developed studies about the Diofanto’s arithmetic and worked on medical and exact sciences’ projects. Thanks to her intelligence and rationality, she became the director of Alexandria Academy and advisor of Orestes the Roman prefect of Alexandria. Unfortunately, rumors about her being against catholic principles started to appear, even though she never stated anything about that. Consequently, Hypatia had a tragic death: she was killed by a group of people, who later burned her lifeless body. Records show that the philosopher was known as a gentle, tolerant, and rational person.

  2. 2. Joan of Arc

    During the Hundred Years’ War, France was hopeless. The biggest part of the French territory was invaded by England. However, even in the middle of such a dark period, Joan, a young lady from Doremy, had a vision that she could lead her country to victory. She was enlisted as a soldier and fought bravely, always encouraging the army with her words. Even though Joan of Arc made important progress for her country, the Church saw her actions as contrary to the “feminine nature”, and burned her alive. Years before her death, when France had already won the war, Joan’s sentence had been withdrawn. She was also canonized and became the patroness of France, an example of resistance against the English invasion.

  3. 3. Aqualtune

    Aqualtune was the princess of Congo and grandmother of Zumbi dos Palmares. In Congo, she was the leader of the Mbwila Battle, which she lost and was enslaved by the Portuguese. Consequently, Aqualtune came to Brazil as a slave and, because of rumors about her strength, she was very tortured by the landowner that kept her. Trying to escape that horrible situation, she ran away, followed by 200 other afro Brazilian slaves. After that, Aqualtune was responsible for the creation of Palmares, one of the biggest quilombos in history, a symbol of afro Brazilian resistance during colonial times. According to legends, Aqualtune was blessed by African divinities with immortality and she became a protective spirit of the quilombo.

  4. 4. Yun Sim-Deok

    Yun Sim-Deok was the first Korean woman to get into Tokyo Music School. Back in Korea, Sim-Deok impressed the public with her amazing vocal abilities, becoming one of the country’s most famous singers. The song “In praise of death” is considered to be the first popular Korean song. She represented the insertion of women in the music industry not only as pop singers but also as composers. Shortly after the recording of her hit song, Yun Sim-Deok committed suicide with her lover Kim U-Jin, throwing herself in the ocean. Sim-Deok’s life story has three cinema productions: “Yun Sim-Deok” (1969), “Death Song” (1991), and “The Hymn of Death” (2018).

  5. 5. Carolina Maria de Jesus

    Carolina was a Brazilian writer who criticized the government's treatment of the poor population. Despite her low schooling, Carolina always loved to write and read.  Her notes about her daily routine and her vision of the world as a black and peripheral woman were the inspiration behind the book “Child of the dark”, which became famous both in Brazil and around the world. According to literature lovers, Carolina’s life story is important to understand the social prejudice that structured society. She became a much looked up figure, seen as a spokesperson of social ills. Nowadays, the Afro-Brazil Museum’s library is named “Carolina Maria de Jesus” in memory of her importance for Brazilian literature.

  6. 6. Katherine Johnson

    Katherine was an American mathematician, physicist, and NASA space scientist. Johnson was responsible for calculating trajectories, launching windows, and routing emergency returns for the Mercury Project and Apollo 11 — the ship that carried the first person to ever step on the Moon, in 1969. However, her contribution to science goes way beyond that. Katherine wrote 26 spatial reports, participated in the creation of the Spatial Bus and of the Land Resource Satellite. The book “Hidden Figures”, by Margot Lee Shetterly, reported the hard work of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three black women who changed NASA’s history. In 2017, it was launched a movie adaption of the book, which was a huge success.

Check out the point of view of an expert about historical prejudice against women

Caroline Rodriguez, a master in History who graduated from São Paulo State University (UNESP), explained more about the oppressive system that ruled the world in the past and nowadays. According to her, women were silenced and excluded from every social context. They were always there, fighting for their rights and revolutionizing society. However, since ancient civilizations, men erased them from history.

“Even today, we see women being discredited in countless ways, but we don’t see the same thing happening to men. We don’t see as much questioning as we see in a woman’s speech”

When asked about a way to revert the historical silencing, she pointed out that it’s very important to give visibility to significant figures responsible for women’s achievements. Most people don’t even know that those women existed. For example, Maria Quitéria, who fought for Brazilian independence. Educational institutions should teach students about her and several other women who completely changed the course of history.     

“I think we have to expose the role of these women, show the world what they did. We have impressive women: scientists, journalists and teachers who were part of history (…) But history is largely written by men (…) It is gradually changing, we have great historians bringing female figures”

Always share, appreciate and value the accomplishments of other women. If we stand together, we can tear down the patriarch. Let’s make sure no more women get erased or silenced.

 

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The article above was edited by Amanda Moraes.

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