5 Female Rebels From World History To Inspire You

by JR Thorpe

Are you thinking about ways to peacefully push back against an upcoming presidential administration which may soon turn many of the rights and freedoms of American women, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, and many others upside down? Then get ready to read on and be inspired. Worldwide, throughout history, there have been many examples of women who engaged in profound and dogged resistance against tyranny and misery because they wanted to see change in their own countries. Some distributed pamphlets, some headed armies, some offered help and safety to those who were in danger, and others approached resistance in other ways — because there are many ways to stand up for what you believe in (and many ways to take inspiration from historical women involved in armies while being completely opposed to violence yourself — Bustle does not endorse violence in any way, shape, or form).

The important thing to remember is that women have been involved in every method of resistance and revolt; and they've also been leaders in plenty of movements where their contributions have been forgotten or minimized. Don't forget what they did — and remember that women have always been on the frontlines of the fight for change.

Trieu Thi Trinh, 225-248

Never heard of this badass? You should have. The Vietnamese hero rebeled against Chinese rule across Vietnam in the 3rd century, raising an army of around 1,000 rural workers and fighting the Chinese. Records reveal that she constantly wore a yellow or gold set of armor (probably true), rode elephants into battle (possibly true), and had three-foot breasts and had to tie them behind her back to fight (very unlikely). She won a long series of battles against the Chinese, and told her brother, who apparently attempted to hold her back, that "I'd like to ride storms, kill sharks in the open sea, drive out the aggressors, reconquer the country, undo the ties of serfdom, and never bend my back to be the concubine of whatever man." She was defeated by the Chinese army eventually, but has been revered in Vietnam ever since as an immortal and a patriot.

Joan Of Arc, 1412-1431

Come on, you know the story. Or do you? Joan's rise to power, and to eventual victory as leader of the French army over the English in the Hundred Year's War, is so familiar that we can forget just how unlikely it actually was. Joan, by nature of her gender and societal position in her era, had no business leading anything — but the sheer power of her religious visions as a teenager led her to seek out France's leaders and convince them that she could be the savior of France.

After a series of military victories that impressed her permanently on the French consciousness as a figure of virtue and victory, she was captured by the Burgundians, arrested on some 70 charges including heresy and the crime of wearing men's clothes, and put through gruelling interrogations that ended with her being burned at the stake as a heretic. The French king, who had up until that point helped her, didn't actively attempt to get her out of her predicament; but Joan had the last laugh, being canonized as a saint in 1920.

The Women's March On Versailles, 1789

October 5, 1789 was a turning point in the French Revolution, though we have no idea about the identities of the women who fostered it and created this astonishing moment in history. The French royal family was at that point still sequestered outside Paris in their palace, Versailles; but amid growing unrest about poverty and widespread misery, one woman began beating a drum in Paris, drawing a gathering of women around her that gradually swelled to a colossal 60,000, all of whom marched to Versailles.

Their intention, alongside finding food and expressing annoyance, was to bring the royal family out of seclusion and back to Paris to answer to the will of the people. And it worked: the women (and some men) walked all the way to Versailles, a significant distance that took them about six hours; then they terrified the King's guards, and were narrowly dissuaded from killing the Queen. But they were calmed down, and escorted the royal family back to Paris without further violence. The French Revolution against the elites had hit its high water mark.

Of course, the thing to take inspiration from here is not that women joined forces to terrorize people (which you should most definitely not do), but that women with no real power in their society were able to create change by working together.

Harriet Tubman, 1820?-1913

Tubman saved hundreds from slavery; as a rebel in American history, she's virtually unparalleled. Her story is known throughout American schools: born a slave, she fled to Pennsylvania in 1849, but refused to stay in safety, instead preferring to return again and again to the South to help fugitive slaves flee northwards. First, she helped people escape to safe states; then, as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it legal for slave hunters to abduct former slaves in free states and return them to the areas and homes they had escaped from, she helped former slaves escape to Canada. She was a skilled and extremely resourceful leader. Her fame increased during the Civil War when, acting as a spy, she helped lead an attack on plantations that would free 700 slaves.

Sophie Scholl, 1921-1943

Sophie Scholl was one of the only female architects of the White Rose, an anti-Nazi passive resistance movement that distributed famous leaflets around Germany in 1942. Scholl's brother, along with several other young men, was the author of the pamphlets themselves, which quoted everybody from Goethe to the Bible to convince people that they must resist Nazism. One demanded, in German, "Why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanised state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right — or rather, your moral duty — to eliminate this system?" The White Rose movement continued to distribute pamphlets until they were caught, and Scholl, her brother and another member were executed by guillotine by the Nazi regime in 1943.

Though all these women have incredibly different stories, they all prove one point — that even in the darkest moments in history, change is possible, and that no matter how helpless we may feel, we don't have to settle for an unfair world.

Images: Shutterstock; 1505 Manuscript, Biblioteque Nationale de France, Library of Congress, GDR Post Office/Wikimedia Commons