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4 Epic Women You Should Know More About

It is March! Aka Women’s History Month! I love lady-stuff! I am so excited! Imagine me with this face:


Also with those fly skates.

I am going to get down to brass tacks (did y’all think the phrase was “brass tax” like I did? I guess I had never seen it written before…) and jump right into telling you a little bit about three fantastic ladies who solidly earned their places in history, and one fantastic lady who could be well on her way to historical significance as we speak!

In the interest of not going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on (as I am obviously prone to doing) I am keeping my descriptions of these women and their achievements brief, but if you want to learn more about these special gals, try this simple #LifeHack: type their names into Google and press enter.

 

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 – 1204)


Who was she?

Duchess of Aquitaine, Queen Consort of France, Queen Consort of England.

Why is she so epic?

I am not even going to go into that fact that she has been described by historians as the most beautiful woman of her time, because who the heck cares with a resume that boasts not one, but TWO queenships on it? She was named Duchess as a young child after the death of her father, and retained that title of her own volition even though it was highly uncommon for women of her day to hold titles not dependent on males. She married the French King Louis VII when she was fifteen. He was smitten with her and even brought her on Crusade with him at her request. By 1152 the fire had died out and I guess Eleanor was just bored being the Queen of France so she got her marriage annulled and took up with some guy named Henry who eventually became the King of England.

Their partnership was loaded with scandal and passion, not always the good kind. The good kind of passion ensured they popped out eight kids, but the bad kind pitted them against one another after Eleanor got fed up with Henry’s affairs, and Henry got fed up with Eleanor annoyingly being all ambitious and highly intelligent. Oddly the Middle Ages was not known for flourishing feminism. A bunch of shenanigans went down (remember that thing I said about Google?) and Henry imprisoned Eleanor far away from her home of Aquitaine. 

Although Eleanor was twelve years older than Henry, she ended up outliving him by over a decade. After her sucker husband died, her son Richard the Lionheart released her. So what did Eleanor do with her newfound freedom? She helped her living children tear it up in the medieval world and establish the House of Plantagenet Dynasty. Richard was always on Crusade so Eleanor pretty much ruled England by herself for his whole reign, and when he was captured on his third Crusade, Eleanor raised the ransom funds and sailed, at the age of 72, into Germany to get her kid back.

She ended up dying at the ripe old age of 82 in a nunnery. A rather quiet passing for a woman who electrified the medieval world, and was one of the most successful and well-liked rulers of her age.   

 

Abigail Adams (1744 – 1818)


Who was she?

The first Second Lady and the second First Lady of the United States of America.

What makes this lady so special?

Abigail was killin’ it behind the scenes of the American War for Independence. We know so much about her through her letters with hubby John Adams. During the war, while John was away at the Continental Congress and then off being an ambassador in Europe, he always sought advice from Abigail on politics and found her correspondence invaluable, often seeking her approval of his actions and admitting his vain desire for her validation. Honestly, I am convinced Abigail was more intelligent than John was – and that guy was one smart cookie, not just in politics, but literature and art and all that “soft” stuff as well. She raised six kids and ran a whole farm while John was off with the bros playing chicken with England. Heck, I cannot even keep one potted plant alive in my dorm room.

Abigail believed slavery was, in her own words, “so not hype”, and while that is kind of a given, she was one of the few people of her day to actually write that opinion down and to help freedmen she knew receive education. She was also an advocate for women’s rights and education. She wrote to her husband reminding him to keep women in mind during the Continental Congress, although John ended up giving a response to the effect of, “best to not stir the pot, dear.” Even though her husband was being a wad, Abigail proved she did not need a bunch of old white guys to clear the way for her; she was going to be remembered in spite of a society which habitually pushed women to the side and into the background.

During her tenure as First Lady, Abigail presided over the building of the White House as we know it today (give or take a burning by the British) and was constantly sticking her nose in her husband’s policies and governance. She earned the nickname “Mrs. President” from some political opponents who were idiotic enough to think calling her that was an insult.  

 

Cheng I Sao (1775 – 1844)


Who was she?

Commander of the Red Flag Fleet, arguably the most successful pirate ever.

Why should I be impressed by a pirate?

Cheng I Sao was fierce. Like, fierce in a way Beyoncé could never even hope to be. (Mostly because I cannot see Beyoncé cutting off the ears of people who disobey her orders.) 

Her origin as a prostitute in the slums of China is a humble one, but holy heck if anyone ever grabbed life by the horns it was this woman. In 1801 she married Cheng I (Cheng I Sao basically translates to “wife of Cheng I”) who was a feared pirate captain. The conditions she set for the marriage included rights to half of her husband’s current and future fortune, and joint command of his pirate crews. And of course Cheng I said “yes” because any 15 year old prostitute who demands something like this of an established pirate captain is either the slyest of foxes, or incredibly intimidating and self-assured. 

Her marriage lasted six years, and after the death of Cheng I, Cheng I Sao low-key took command of her late husband’s ships while her adopted son (who she later married… no, not weird at all) was the leader in name of the fearsome Red Flag Fleet. Why was this marauding band of pirates called a fleet? Oh, just because she managed around 400 ships and at least 50,000 sailing pirates on those ships! Onboard, she crafted the most extensive and severe pirate code of conduct. Remember that thing I said about cutting off ears? Adultery and rape were both punishable by death in this fearsome female’s fleet. She eventually diversified her portfolio by moving her operations to the mainland of China. Gambling and racketeering and protection schemes, oh my! She was basically “The Godmother of China.” 

The Chinese government was not too keen on Cheng I Sao’s tomfoolery and called in reinforcements to help take out the pirate queen and her fleet. Cheng I Sao took on – and defeated – the Chinese government which was supplemented by the might of Portugal and England. Fortunately for her, Cheng I Sao was one of the few people in history who actually knows how to quit while they are ahead, and in 1810 she met with the Chinese government under the flag of truce. She managed to get the majority of her pirates pardons and jobs in the Chinese armed forces. Cheng I Sao even got her adopted son / husband (still not weird) an officer position in the military and the whole Red Flag Fleet was able to keep most of the booty they plundered.

Cheng I Sao was one of the few pirates (and very few pirate leaders) who was able to retire from piracy and keep her wealth, as opposed to the fate of “a short drop and a sudden stop” many of her comrades met. She died peacefully at the age of 60 in the combination brothel and gambling house she owned. Classic Cheng I Sao: living in those shades of grey right up to her last day.

 

Janet Mock (1984 – )


Who is she?

Transgender rights activist, Author of Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.

So what is the big hoopla with Janet?

The most all-encompassing thing I can say about Janet Mock is a thing that I did not even think up to say (Melissa Harris-Perry did) and that thing is: “Janet does that which only great writers of autobiography accomplish – she tells a story of the self, which turns out to be a reflection of all humanity.”

Janet is a transgender woman who wrote a book about her transition. But has she stopped there? No! I mean, obviously not, or I probably would not have included her. She has kept on writing, and oh my goodness she is writing a lot. Janet wrote for People magazine for a while, and is now a contributing editor to Marie Claire. Oh, and also Twitter, she writes for Twitter as we all do. 

She is also speaking a lot! She has an excellent It Gets Better Project video, has appeared on The Colbert Report and on Piers Morgan’s show! I just have to add, she totally let Piers have it when she was on the show and afterwards on Twitter… and I do think every once in a while that man just needs a metaphorical noogie to the ego and a swift kick in the butt. Janet also has a weekly show for MSNBC called so POPular! where she talks about… popcorn? Fan fiction renditions of Dr. Seuss’ classic novella Hop On Pop? Pop culture? No one can say for sure.

Determining people’s historical significance and impact is tricky to do while they are still alive, and Janet is most certainly alive. However, even if she as an individual does not stand the test of time and appear in our kids’ history books (history e-books?) the cause and ideology she is fighting for surely will. Janet Mock is working to expand the definition of womanhood; she and so many other LGBT activists are guiding humanity to boldly go where we have not gone before, but sorely need to be.    

I am an English major purely for the fame and fortune, and a Spanish minor because conjugating irregular verbs is my one true passion. Oh, I am also double minoring in CompSci because I wish to please our future computer overlords by demonstrating knowledge of their culture. You can follow me on twitter ~~ @audpad ~~ for what many critics have called "kind of funny" and "only mildly pretentious" tweets. You can also listen to a radio show I co-host on Wednesdays from 8:00 - 10:00 PM. It is called The Skip and Audrey Show and this is the link to check out my sick tunes and totally relevant thoughts on politics and pop culture: wcnuradio.com/listen-live/
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