When Paris of Troy and Menelaus of Sparta fought over Helen, they became two of the most infamous jealous rivals in history. But our modern knowledge of the tale leaves out one important angle: What the heck was Helen thinking? Women are too often excluded from the narrative, whether it’s the role of women in the Prohibition movement, how women form communities to protect themselves against violence or their prowess on the battlefield. Today, take a deep dive into the little-known ways that women have stuck it to the man throughout history.
Isabelle Lee, Reporter
prohibition and women
1. Don’t Bury the Hatchet
While women who fought to ban alcohol consumption in the U.S. get a bad rep, the temperance movement, beginning in the early 1800s and culminating with the start of Prohibition, in 1920, was galvanized by the link between alcohol abuse and violence against women. Carrie Nation, who lost her husband to alcoholism, even went so far as to storm into all-male taverns and smash beer barrels and bottles of booze with a hatchet. In those moments, her weapon carried the force of retribution against the source of so much terror and violence against women.
2. The Native Example
When white leaders of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union envisioned what they wanted America to look like, it was free of alcohol’s corrupting influence and modeled after the Cherokee Nation. The federal government had banned alcohol consumption or sale on the Cherokee reservation, and at the forefront of the anti-alcohol movement were Cherokee women like Ada Archer and Jane Stapler. Archer was the first Cherokee woman to lecture on temperance in public, lambasting her tribal leaders for failing to crack down on illegal alcohol sales on the reservation. In 1890, Stapler spoke at the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union’s annual conference in Atlanta, criticizing the role of white colonizers in creating the alcohol problem on reservations.
3. Black Prohibition
The leaders of the temperance movement were predominately white — and those are typically the faces you’ll see in historical retrospectives — but Native American and Black women’s voices were the loudest. Liquor sellers were overwhelmingly white, playing into a system of predatory capitalism that existed, especially in the South. Lynchings and other attacks on Black men were often fueled by alcohol. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, the mother of African American journalism, was responsible for expanding temperance into the South. Her efforts helped Black women organize groups and included them in the national movement to ban alcohol as a means of protecting women.
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On the outskirts of the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya lies an all-female village. Founded in 1990 by Rebecca Lolosoli and 15 other women who had been raped by British soliders, the village is a safe haven for women from the region who are survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse, fleeing female genital mutilation or escaping child marriage. These women self-govern, get by frugally on the tourist trade and offer an alternative to life under the patriarchal system of the Samburu tribe, from which most of them hail. In Umoja, men are banned and decisions are made by the community under the “tree of speech.”
2. Transition House
When Chris Womendez and Cherie Jimenez turned their Boston apartment into a safe haven for women fleeing domestic violence, they had no idea that they would create one of the longest-running shelters for domestic abuse survivors. Transition House, which started in the mid-1970s, was part of a growing network of resources and a cultural movement calling attention to the violence that women face at home. Through the shelter, survivors could find housing and mental health support to get back on their feet, away from the influence of their abuser.
3. STAR House
In 1970, 19-year-old Sylvia Rivera and 25-year-old Marsha P. Johnson turned their Brooklyn apartment into a safe space for trans women and youth. Rivera and Johnson became mothers not just to the people living in STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) House but also to the trans political movement: Johnson may have thrown the brick that ignited the Stonewall riots. Johnson died in 1992 under suspicious circumstances — her body was found in the Hudson River — and the case is still unsolved. Rivera spent the decades before her death in 2002 fighting for the safety of trans youth from the violence they face on the streets, mainly from police officers and men soliciting them for sex.
Blinding, flashing lights, and enthusiastic cheers from onlookers welcome young trans and LGBTQ youth to the ballroom scene. The art form, which has its roots in the ballroom culture of the 1920s, has stormed into pop culture in a dance style known as “voguing” that mimics runway models. But it began as a way for people to experiment with gender identity and expression, free from the rigid rules of the patriarchy outside the dance hall doors. Kiki Balls, where members strut their stuff in front of judges, offer a family structure for many youths who have been kicked out of their homes. The scene helped save Dominique Jackson, the trans actor and activist, as she reveals on OZY’s Defining Moments on Hulu.
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COVID-19 makes it harder for survivors to access resources, and many shelters have closed their doors due to restrictions and regulations. Meanwhile, the pandemic has made intimate partner violence more severe and widespread as couples are forced to isolate together in high-stress situations. Studies show a spike last year, ranging from 6 percent to 21 percent, in calls to U.S. police and shelters as lockdowns first took effect.
2. Tech Stalking
The pandemic has not only accelerated domestic violence rates but has also shifted the methods that abusers use to exert control. The use of location-tracking apps or spying software rose 51 percent during the early months of lockdown last year. Ways to fight back include installing facial recognition or other privacy protection on your device, as well as anti-virus software.
3. The Violence of the Confederacy
“I have rape-colored skin,” opens a searing column from poet Caroline Randall Williams in the New York Times. Williams points out that her mixed-race heritage can be traced back to Confederates like Gen. Edmund Pettus who raped the Black people they enslaved. Williams argues that she has as much Confederate heritage as any of the white people fighting to preserve statues and place names as part of a fake vision of a genteel Old South that never actually existed. And her skin is all the proof she needs.
4. Dragging On
Marginalized groups have often had to fight to secure safe spaces, but those gains aren’t always permanent. Consider drag queens in Budapest, Hungary; the pandemic has decimated their livelihood, and populism is threatening to ground it forever. The city had been gaining traction as an inclusive, cosmopolitan center for central Europe. But over the past year, the party of strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has launched an anti-LGBTQ campaign that threatens to shutter gay clubs, ban same-sex adoption and more.
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You don’t meet a girl like her in every dynasty. Lady Fu Hao was one of the consorts of Emperor Wu Ding of the Shang dynasty. She led several military campaigns, defeating longtime enemies of the Shang dynasty in a single, decisive battle. Her tomb is among the best-preserved from the dynasty and shows how highly she was regarded within the court. It included large quantities of jade and coins, and to ensure Fu Hao would have servants in the afterlife, human sacrifices were made.
2. Triệu Thị Trinh
Before there was Joan of Arc, there was Triệu Thị Trinh. At just 20 years old, the Vietnamese heroine raised 1,000 men to rebel against invading Chinese forces in the third century. While she liberated her home territory, she eventually lost the war and is thought to have committed suicide. She left behind a powerful legacy as a warrior, with legend holding that she stood 9 feet tall.
In a rookie move for the Romans, they only recognized a son’s right to inherit. So when the king of the Celtic tribe Iceni died in present-day Britain without male heirs, Rome promptly invaded, torturing Boudicca and denying her and her daughters the keys to her husband’s kingdom. In retaliation, Boudicca set out on a path of destruction, aided by 100,000 of her tribesmen. She lay waste to the Roman capital in Britain, Londinium, home to today’s London.
4. Julie d’Aubigny
After attending a ball dressed as a man in late-1600s Paris, Julie d’Aubigny, aka Mademoiselle Maupin, romanced another woman on the dance floor. Three men challenged her to a duel, and she defeated the lot of them, one by one. A serial dueler who had affairs with women and was sentenced to death multiple times before earning pardons, d’Aubigny was a rebel for her time in about a thousand different ways. Did we mention she was also an opera star?