Life

10 All-Women Protests Through History, Because Badass Feminist Civil Disobedience Didn't Start With Pussy Riot

As women's history professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once famously put it, well-behaved women seldom make history — but if you put a group of badass women together, you've got history and then some. Groups of women have protested together since the beginning of recorded history, doing everything from fighting unfair Roman laws and toppling the Tsarist regime in Russia, to fighting unfair driving bans in Saudi Arabia today. If you're looking at a major political upheaval, chances are strong that a large bunch of dissatisifed women had something to do with it.

The power of women banded together can cause change. And sometimes, whole governments fear that power: China imprisoned five "guerrilla feminists" — who have been in jail since March — because they were afraid that they would lead a political revolution; and members of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot became household names after they became political prisoners for protesting the policies of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

So take a journey through 10 of the most trouble-making, change-creating women's groups in history, from ancient Rome through today. And if reading this makes you want to grab a banner and your friends, and go create a ruckus — you're welcome.

195 BCE: The Oppian Law Protests

When the Roman Empire needed money in 215 BCE, it looked to a place that seemed like easy pickings: the pockets of its women. The Oppian Law restricted how much money a woman could own and how luxuriously she could dress, and declared that any money she inherited from her husband after he died was the property of the state. It didn’t go down well: the historian Livy records that in 195 BCE, huge crowds of women “blockaded every street in the city and every entrance to the Forum”, entreating Roman politicians to repeal the law, and threatening and overwhelming all their opponents. It worked, and the law was repealed.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

600: The Nuns Who Besieged An Abbey

Not only were the rebels in this case female — they were nuns. And if you think nuns can’t get pissed off, you’re wrong: two nuns at the Abbey of Sainte-Croix in Poitiers, who were princesses by birth, became tired of the abbess ordering them around, and convinced 40 other nuns to defect. Not content with that, the renegade nuns then besieged the abbey with a small army, trying to get one of the two troublemaking nuns, Princess Clothild, installed as abbess instead. The abbess won, and the snobbish princesses were sent elsewhere. Hey, women can rebel for bad reasons as well as good!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

1600s: Women Fight For Communal Land Rights

A big issue in 1600s England was enclosure, or the privatizing of land that had previously been public. This led to widespread riots, and some of them were made up entirely of women — like the 1602 rebellion of 37 women, led by a “Captain Dorothy” Dawson, who chased away a bunch of men working on a moor and broke all their fences.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

1789: The March On Versailles

The March On Versailles, also known as the Women’s March, was one of the most important early moments in the French revolution — and it began with a group of angry, starving women, protesting about skyrocketing food prices for the poor. As thousands more women joined, they began to march towards the king’s palace in Versailles and became a political force, protesting the French aristocracy’s distance and notorious wealth. The mob forced the king and queen to return to Paris with them, and the French Revolution began.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

1912: The Suffragettes

British suffragette activists didn’t play around. When they campaigned for the right to vote in 1912, they chained themselves to railings, detonated bombs, smashed shop windows and went on hunger strike. They even burned down unoccupied houses and churches. Close to 1000 suffrage activists went to prison, but their aim was achieved: women over 30 were given the right to vote in 1918.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

1917: The Petrograd Food Rioters

The Russian Revolution was jump-started when thousands of female workers went on strike in the city of Petrograd in February 1917. They were protesting two things: the scarcity of food, and Russia’s involvement in World War I. Over 100,000 women protested in the streets for days — and when the aristocratic government responded with brutal force, the Russian revolution was set in motion.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

1929: The Igbo Women's War

In 1929, thousands of Igbo women in Nigeria mounted a “women’s war” of non-violent protest to convince their British-controlled government leaders to stop taxing their property and start treat them respectfully. The protestors, who numbered over 25,000, wore down local officials by disrupting their lives through song and dance, and it worked: they won better laws. But their gains were tempered with tragedy: 50 lives were lost when British soldiers fired into the crowds.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

1980: The Equal Rights Amendment Marches

1980 was an enormous year for all-female protests. The National Organization Of Women were outraged when Illinois refused to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and organized several gigantic protests in opposition. One, held in Chicago on Mother’s Day 1980, attracted a record 90,000 female ERA protesters, dressed in green, white and purple — the signature colors of women’s suffrage.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

2003: The Women Of Liberia Mass Action For Peace Movement

The end of Liberia’s 14-year civil war was brought about by a group of women — the Women Of Liberia Mass Action For Peace Movement, to be specific. In 2003, thousands of Liberian women congregated in mass non-violent protests all over the country. They stage huge sit-ins full of prayer and song, including one at the Presidential Palace to prevent any government officials from leaving until a peace accord was struck. The movement’s leader, Leymah Gbowee won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Today: Pussy Rioters, FEMEN And Delhi's Rapist Protests

The sight of a group of women making trouble these days is as powerful as ever. The amount of media attention and political power carried by activists like Russia’s Pussy Riot, Ukraine’s FEMEN feminist protest group and the 600-strong crowd of women who protested the gang rape of a student in Delhi in 2012 show that women united are a serious force to be reckoned with.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

REBECCA CONWAY/AFP/Getty Images
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