11 Biographies Of Badass Women To Inspire You To Kick Ass, Make Good Art, And Change The World
Hey. So I know that we have our "girlboss" hashtags and our Wonder Woman movie now. I know that we're all supposed to love our bodies and lean in and have perfect skin (but in a self-care way!) and wake up every morning filled with righteous anger but also be mindful and relaxed all the time. But existing in the physical world as a woman (or pretty much anyone who's not a man) is still pretty exhausting. Our current administration is careening towards a real life Handmaid's Tale and we still have to pay a tax on tampons. It's rough. We are, however, far from the first generation to have to deal with a ceaseless onslaught of woman-hating garbage. So here are a few biographies of badass women who will inspire you to be your best self, even when it's tempting to let the bastards grind you down.
These women run the gamut from activists to scientists, poets to literal queens. Some of them have helped shape the world as we know it today. Some of them just said "screw it" and ran off to be pirates. All of them were (or are) stone cold badasses. So the next time you want to scream, or lie face down on the floor, or chuck all of your skincare products into the sea, pick up one of these biographies and take a cue from some of history's best bad girls:
'Warrior Poet: A Biography' of Audre Lorde by Alexis De Veaux
Audre Lorde was a seminal American poet and all around badass. Warrior Poet follows her incredible life story, including her conservative childhood, her marriage to a white gay man, her subsequent career as an outspoken lesbian activist, and her legacy as a brilliant writer who helped to shape American feminism for years to come.
'Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo' by Hayden Herrera
Frida Kahlo grew up during the Mexican Revolution, suffered a traumatic accident as a teenager that left her in chronic pain for the rest of her life, and came into her own as one of the most revolutionary artists of all time (not to mention her gender-bending feminism and her string of wild love affairs). Frida is a fascinating overview of her life, from early childhood to worldwide renown.
'The Bandit Queen of India: An Indian Woman's Amazing Journey from Peasant to International Legend' by Phoolan Devi, Paul Rambali, and Marie-Therese Cuny
Phoolan Devi was born into poverty and married off as child to a man three times her age. But she escaped her life of constant abuse to become India's most notorious bandit, hunting down rapists and stealing money from the rich to give to the poor, until she eventually surrendered herself to the authorities, served her time, and ran a successful campaign to be elected to Parliament. She is essentially a real life Robin Hood, and her story is a must-read for bandits and non-bandits everywhere.
'Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China' by Jung Chang
At age 16, Cixi was chosen as one of the Emperor's numerous consorts. But when the Emperor died it was her five-year-old son who succeeded the throne, and Cixi turned right around, launched a palace coup, and went about her business ruling China. She survived numerous assassination plots, fell in love with a eunuch, poisoned her enemies, put an end to foot-binding, and more or less created the superpower nation we know today.
'Marie Curie and Her Daughters: The Private Lives of Science's First Family' by Shelley Emling
Chances are that you've heard of Marie Curie at some point, in some science classroom. But did you know that her two formidable daughters were pretty badass in their own right, too? Marie Curie and Her Daughters gives us the wild story of the two-time Nobel Prize winner as well as her daughters and granddaughter, and how one family of tough ladies set the scientific world on fire.
'The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt' by Kara Cooney
Hatshepsut was meant to marry her brother and churn out male heirs for the Egyptian monarchy. Instead, she ascended to the rank of king at age 20, and ruled for 22 years as Egypt's cross-dressing, longest-reigning female pharaoh. The Woman Who Would Be King is an engrossing look at her rise to power, and how her momentous reign was all but erased from the history books.
'Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg' by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Ruth Bader freaking Ginsberg. If you're not already a fan, read up on her incredible career in Notorious RBG, a somewhat irreverent (but still entirely factual) account of her life and times as the second ever female justice on the Supreme Court. She's been fighting fiercely for gender equality and civil rights in America for a long, long time now, and she's still hard at work.
'Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army' by Phyllis Birnbaum
Aisin Gioro Xianyu was born a Chinese princess, but given away to be raised in Japan, with the hopes that she would hope day help restore the Manchu dynasty to its former glory. Now called Kawashima Yoshiko, she grew up to be a cross-dressing military commander as well as a spy, and one of the most divisive political provocateurs of her time.
'Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space' by Lynn Sherr
Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. But her life is so much more than that first mission beyond Earth's atmosphere. This biography explores her work investigating NASA, her advocacy for education, and her very private personal life, including interviews with her friends, colleagues, and life partner.
'Florynce "Flo" Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical' by Sherie M. Randolph
Florynce "Flo" Kennedy was a lawyer, feminist, activist, firebrand, civil rights advocate, and wearer of supremely awesome hats. She was instrumental in making intersectionality a part of activism way back in the 1950's, long before intersectional feminism was anything approaching mainstream. Her life was seriously interesting and her biography is a must read for bold women everywhere.
'Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas' by Laura Sook Duncombe
Look, I'm not necessarily saying that we should all be looking up to pirates, no matter what their gender. But some days you need that extra dose of badass, swashbuckling inspiration. And that's when you need to read about lady pirates. Pirate Women includes the true stories of viking princess Alfhild, the infamous Grace O'Malley, the fierce Sayyida al-Hurra, and the terrifying Cheng I Sao who commanded four hundred ships at the height of her power.