The recent silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren is a blatant demonstration of the still-common belief that women should be silent, meek, and definitely not angry or defensive. However, this has not always been the case and, in reality, is a relatively new way of looking at women and their voices.
For thousands of years, women have actually been involved directly in the militant defense of their families, communities, and even nations. In ancient times, there was Anahita, the Persian leader of an all-female cavalry division, who invented trousers for her troops. Hatshepsut, Pharaoh of Egypt: leader of her army as well as her kingdom. Boadicea, who led her people in a last and nearly successful insurgency against the Romans invading ancient Britain. Theodora, Empress of the Byzantine Empire, who rose from sex worker to empress not because of her gender but because of her political acumen.
In more recent times, there have been women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, who held and governed her own large portion of Early Medieval France and served as Regent of Britain whilst her husband was waging war in Europe. Catherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII, was not only a regent but fought off an invasion from Scotland while her husband was, again, off waging war on the continent. And, of course, Joan of Arc: an uneducated peasant girl who led the French Army when her king would not and who was betrayed and executed after the final victory.
In American history, there are the examples of Molly Pitcher, Clara Barton, and many others who either served as support or actually dressed as men and participated in the American Revolution, Civil War, and WWI. During WWII, women were both at home in support positions in their towns and communities and in organizations such as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), and American Red Cross, often right in the thick of the fighting or in imminent danger due to their missions over enemy territory. The nurses and moral support of the Korean and Vietnam wars were often under fire yet still did their jobs in a highly professional manner.
Not only have women throughout time been actual warriors, but modern women are often leaders, such as those of the suffragette and settlement movements, which included the Pankhursts and the women of Seneca Falls, bringing about the first wave of feminism. Betty Friedan, bell hooks, Greer Garson, Chaka Khan, Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Starhawk, Ella Baker, and more were involved in second-wave feminism as well as the Civil Rights battles of the last 70 years.
Women over the last 150 years have been political organizers, leaders, and speakers. Mother Jones was in union organizing and advocacy, Margaret Sanger was in women’s health and family planning, Mary Elizabeth Lease of Kansas agitated for banking and railroad reform, Latifa al-Zayyat, an Egyptian Socialist of the 1920s, supported the St. Louis Commune by sneaking food and supplies, in spite of dangers from Pinkerton thugs, to workers who’d locked themselves into the factories in East St. Louis for months on end!
Presently, the women in communities of color have organized Black Lives Matter, Ferguson Frontliners, Mothers Against Senseless Killing, Mothers as Allies, and more in order to address police and gang violence in their neighborhoods and in the nation as a whole.
Since the rise of the Tea Party and the campaign, election, and inauguration of President Trump, women have been under attack in regards to their bodily integrity, health care, safety, and more. Due to the endemic misogyny in the current administration, women are unsure if any of the protections afforded them, albeit only by rules and regulations, will be left in place. These are the women who, finally awakened to the plight their sisters had been protesting and warning them about for decades, took to the streets and continue to agitate and resist the Trump agenda.
Not surprisingly, the Trump administration has come up against a group of women who legally challenged the travel ban. All five of the judges involved — Ann Marie Donnelly, Leonie Brinkema, Allison Dale Burroughs, and Judith Dein — were women. Interestingly, all five of them used the common sense citing of the President’s own public speeches as pertinent to what the executive order (EO) actually meant despite obfuscation within the order. Then newly-elected Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez of Texas refused to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Drug Enforcement Administration agents in her county despite her funding being immediately yanked. But don’t worry – women stepped up in support and fully funded her department through independent fundraising. Finally, there is Sally Yates, Acting Attorney General of the U.S.A., who not only did her job by warning the White House that then-national security adviser General Michael Flynn was possibly implicated in working with Russian intelligence but put her job on the line by refusing to have her office enforce the “Muslim ban” EO. She, as so many other women have over the ages, lost her livelihood and gained her place in the history of women on the wall.
There are multitudes of women who have stood up for and stood in front of their communities over the ages. This article does not address them all and is, admittedly, American- and Euro-centric, but I am hopeful that I will be writing in the future about more women — past, present, and future — who have made, are making, and will make our world a more livable and humane place to live.