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History vs Women: The Defiant Lives that They Don't Want You to Know

History vs Women: The Defiant Lives that They Don't Want You to Know


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Rebels, rulers, scientists, artists, warriors and villains
Women are, and have always been, all these things and more.

Looking through the ages and across the globe, Anita Sarkeesian, founder of Feminist Frequency, along with Ebony Adams PHD, have reclaimed the stories of twenty-five remarkable women who dared to defy history and change the world around them. From Mongolian wrestlers to Chinese pirates, Native American ballerinas to Egyptian scientists, Japanese novelists to British Prime Ministers, History vs Women will reframe the history that you thought you knew.

Featuring beautiful full-color illustrations of each woman and a bold graphic design, this standout nonfiction title is the perfect read for teens (or adults!) who want the true stories of phenomenal women from around the world and insight into how their lives and accomplishments impacted both their societies and our own.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250146731
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 10/02/2018
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 561,377
Product dimensions: 7.70(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Anita Sarkeesian is an award-winning media critic and the creator and executive director of Feminist Frequency, an educational nonprofit that explores the representations of women in pop culture narratives.Best known as the creator and host of Feminist Frequency’s highly influential series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, Anita lectures at universities, conferences and game development studios around the world. Anita dreams of owning a life-size replica of Buffy’s scythe. She is the coauthor of History vs Women.

Ebony Adams, Ph.D. is an author, activist, and former college educator whose work foregrounds the lives and work of black women in the diaspora. She lives in Los Angeles with a steadily-increasing collection of Doctor Who memorabilia. She writes widely on film criticism, social justice, and pop culture, and is the coauthor of History vs Women.

Born under the Brixton sun in London, England, artist T. S. Abe is a graduate of Central Saint Martins University of the Arts. Her drawings have been featured on album covers, in exhibitions, on a London bus, and in History vs. Women: The Defiant Lives That They Don't Want You to Know.

Read an Excerpt



Explore the lives of women who teach us that justice is always worth fighting for, whether on the battlefield, from the courtroom, or in the press.

Like the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, women cannot be destroyed. Keep us out of school, and we'll learn to read in secret. Tell us we're too weak to compete, and we'll beat you at your own game. Bar us from the halls of power, and we'll storm the gates and lift our voices anyway. Despite all that's been done around the world and throughout history to keep women down, we climb toward the light.

This section is devoted to sharing stories of rebellious women who refused to accept the status quo. These courageous fighters ignored the direct and indirect calls to say silent, and for that they sometimes paid a terrible cost. When they wouldn't sit quietly and act "ladylike," they were met with violent opposition. But despite being despised, feared, and attacked, they kept going — even when the odds were stacked against them. From India to Vietnam, from America to Egypt, they challenged powerful people and institutions, regardless of the personal cost.


Being a lightning rod for social change is emotionally taxing and often isolating, but rebels don't give up. They aren't afraid of making people angry or getting their hands dirty. On the battlefield and in the courtroom, they keep marching, speaking up, and fighting for self-determination, religious freedom, and a better world.

For any student of social justice and human rights, the choice about which fearless fighters to include in a work like this presents a tremendous challenge. There are so many women who came before us and paved the way for our activist work today. We only have space to share a small sampling of the breathtaking resilience and courage that women demonstrate every single day. Reckless rebels such as Doria Shafik, one of modern Egypt's pioneering feminists; Ida B. Wells, a crusading black American journalist and anti-lynching campaigner; Mai Bhago, an indomitable Sikh warrior; Lucy Hicks Anderson, a woman at the vanguard of the fight for transgender rights; and Trieu Thi. Trinh, one of the mothers of Vietnam, inspire us and give us the courage to fight against police brutality, environmental catastrophe, and discrimination and inhumanity in all their forms. Around the world, women are battling for a just world where all people are treated with dignity and respect. Be inspired by their stories and motivated by their courage, so that one day, we can all be like feminist activist and writer Audre Lorde, who proclaimed that "when I dare to be powerful — to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."




Rage into the wind!

Feel the dreadful thunder of mighty war elephants trampling the ground. Raise your fists and sound your terrible war cry.

Survey the indomitable warriors around you, and let the righteous fury of your fight course through your blood.

This is the story of the mighty Bà Trieu (Lady Trieu), third-century freedom fighter from Vietnam and impossible badass.

Born around 225 CE in the mountainous region of northern Vietnam, Trieu Thi Trinh was orphaned at an early age and raised by an elder brother, Trieu Quôc Ðat. While records of her life at this time are difficult to confirm, some accounts speak of an unhappy childhood, suffering under an abusive sister-in-law. Bà Trieu responded to the abuse with the same decisiveness and avenging fury she would wield throughout her short life. The tales say that her spirit cried out at her ill treatment and that she struck a decisive blow for freedom. During one pitched battle, her sister-in-law was killed — deliberately or inadvertently, we will never know. Bà Trieu fled to the haven of the forested mountains.

Deep within those imposing green mountains, she took the first step on the path that would transform her from Trieu Thi Trinh the woman into Bà Trieu the freedom fighter and legend.

For over three hundred years, the Chinese had occupied and ruled Bà Trieu's region of northern Vietnam with an iron fist. During this period, brutal taxation and exploitation of the poor was commonplace. Expressions of Vietnamese cultural identity, as opposed to the mandated Chinese one, were often ruthlessly suppressed. The desire of wealthy Vietnamese elites for more independence and autonomy was met with varying degrees of resistance — usually harsh.

One of the unsurprising realities of the legend of Bà Trieu is that although her myth is woven throughout Vietnamese histories, her name rarely, if ever, appears in Chinese versions of the same period. There's the understandable and natural impulse to emphasize victories and downplay losses. There's also the cultural effect of Confucianism, as it was interpreted by Chinese leaders of the day. It took for granted that a woman's nature was passive and her social role was to be subservient to men. Imagine how hard it must have been for the Chinese generals warring against fierce females like Bà Trieu to admit defeat at the hands of a woman!

And the Chinese forces did suffer defeat, over and over again. We do not have an overwhelming number of sources, but it is believed that during her martial career, Bà Trieu led more than a thousand men and women into at least thirty decisive battles. Commanding a mighty army, Bà Trieu rebelled against the tyranny of the Chinese and the mandated erasure of Vietnamese ethnic and national identity. In doing so, she became a legend:

Bà Trieu, who towered over men at nine feet tall.

Bà Trieu, who shone in her golden armor and could walk five hundred leagues in a day.

Bà Trieu, whose voice rang out like a temple bell and whose beauty stopped the breath.

Bà Trieu, who could eat bushels of rice in one sitting!

Bà Trieu, who slung her three-foot-long breasts over her shoulders when she rode into battle!

Bà Trieu stands as a larger-than-life figure in the fight for Vietnamese independence and as a woman of the common people. So, Bà Trieu's massive bosom? It was most likely a symbolic thumbing of the nose to later neo-Confucian edicts that demanded women bind their breasts to avoid appearing "indecent" or "unseemly." Think what it means for Bà Trieu to race across painted canvases or dance through patriotic songs, her colossal bosom proud and defiant. What an image!

But despite Bà Trieu's rousing victories, she was not without detractors at home. Her own brother tried to convince her to live quietly and give up the rebel life, to which she responded:


By 248 CE, the Chinese emperor had had enough. He resolved to stamp out the rebellion and Bà Trieu's forces by any means necessary. Bribes flowed, and reinforcements were sent to the front. After several months of fighting, Bà Trieu's army was defeated. Legends say that she chose to commit suicide rather than accept the dishonor of surrender. The Chinese wouldn't finally be driven from Vietnam until 939 CE.

So, what is behind the growth of Bà Trieu from a mere mortal to a literal giant (with three-foot breasts)? Of course these stories are entertaining, but they also highlight something about the way we treat our heroes and, particularly, how we try to make sense of women who succeed in typically male-dominated spheres. It is almost inconceivable to many that an ordinary woman — possessed of great courage, yes, and a strategic mind, but an ordinary woman nonetheless — could inspire devotion from many hundreds of men and lead them to martial victory. So she must have been extraordinary.

It's not hard to see why a figure as dynamic and larger than life as Bà Trieu could capture the imagination of a people. We hold fast to heroes who reflect back to us everything we want to embody. Figures like Robin Hood perform the same function in our Western cultural imagination. Bà Trieu represents an authority-defying, blood-stirring will to fight for the people. In Vietnam, streets are not named after Bà Trieu for her nine-foot height, or her insatiable hunger for rice, but rather for the way she stands tall as a monument to Vietnamese resilience and their will to fight in the face of overwhelming odds.




Mai Bhago was a fearless and dedicated woman, celebrated and remembered within Sikh religious communities, but we suspect she might be as unknown to many of you as she was to us. Western history books too often skip over the stories and defining moments of communities in the global south. And when we do get a peek at the struggles of brown and black folks around the world, patriarchy is there to obscure the contributions of women. Bhago was instrumental in the battle for Sikh religious freedom in the early eighteenth century. Without her commitment to what she believed was right and just, one of the largest religious groups in the world may have been defeated indefinitely.

Mai Bhago was born and raised, along with her brothers, in the village of Jhabal Kalan in the Punjab region of India. Her father taught her both religious devotion and combat skills — skills that Bhago would later use to defend Guru Gobind Singh, the last in the line of "divine spiritual messengers" who founded Sikhism. Sikhs believe one God exists equally for everybody, regardless of gender or race. The religion rejects caste and teaches that one should value truth and compassion and fight for the justice of all people.

During Guru Gobind Singh's time as prophet he encouraged his devotees to be both saints and soldiers. They were to be equally dedicated to resisting oppressive religious and government forces and to helping the most vulnerable members of society. Guru Gobind Singh stressed the importance of discipline, piety, and reflection in all spiritual matters but was adamant about the righteousness of taking up arms in defense of his people and their beliefs.

Bhago grew up surrounded by this kind of fervor and focus. More than one of her family members served under previous gurus, and Bhago, a skilled warrior, was committed to following in their footsteps.

Bhago and her fellow Sikhs suffered during the long reign of Aurangzeb, the intolerant Mughal emperor. His regime was brutal and unrelenting — unsurprising for a leader who imprisoned his own father and ordered the execution of his eldest brother to consolidate power.

Before Aurangzeb, Mughal emperors had allowed their subjects to follow their own laws and practice their own religion, but Aurangzeb imposed and vigorously enforced Islamic law throughout the conquered lands. Under his reign, Hindu temples were destroyed, and a punitive tax on all non-Muslim subjects was reinstated. Aurangzeb was pitiless in his mission to erase every religion but Islam from his empire, including the Sikhs and Guru Gobind Singh.

But getting to Guru Gobind Singh in 1705 meant going through a dedicated but not overwhelming cluster of soldiers who protected him. The small band traveled from hideout to hideout, barely able to survive on the scarce rations they could find. Exhaustion and despair were rampant. Many wanted to give up. Some of them did. In fact, of the fewer than one hundred fighters protecting Guru Gobind Singh, forty of them deserted the cause.


Bhago's fury when she learned of their desertion was frightening to behold. She refused to accept their cowardice. She rode from village to village, rousing the wives and families of the deserters to turn them away. Her relentless determination was so galvanizing that she even inspired some wives to offer to join the battle themselves if their husbands refused.


And in the end? All forty deserters returned, this time joined by Mai Bhago herself — and not a moment too soon. After weeks of pursuit, the Mughal army had almost overtaken the guru. The Sikhs were vastly outnumbered, so they had to be especially cunning about their defense. Knowing that the Mughal army was tired and thirsty, Bhago and her men set up close to the only water source for miles around, a reservoir near the village of Khidrana. They cloaked the area in sheets and fabric, which may have been intended to appear from a distance like the assembled camp of a much larger enemy force, or may have been meant to deceive the Mughals into believing that the guru himself was present. When the Mughals approached, the Sikh fighters, hiding in the surrounding area, ambushed them.

When the fighting was over, Mai Bhago stood alone on the field of battle, the only survivor. Her family, her friends, her brethren in the faith — all gone. The Mughals believed that they had carried the day and that Guru Gobind Singh's body lay among the many broken and bleeding dead. Finding the reservoir dry, they shrugged and shuffled off in search of a drink of water.

But Guru Gobind Singh was not dead. Through the valiant efforts of Bhago and her fellow holy warriors, the guru had escaped. He blessed the forty who died as Chali Mukte, the Forty Liberated Ones, and their sacrifice became known as the Battle of Muktsar, meaning "pool of liberation." Bhago recovered from her battle wounds and became one of the guru's personal bodyguards. After his death a few years later, in 1708, Mai Bhago retired and lived to a ripe old age. To this day, Sikhs around the world share the story of the woman who, through powerful leadership and single-minded spiritual devotion, saved Guru Gobind Singh, and Sikhism itself.




There is one thing that no one can ever take away from you. That's the knowledge, in your soul, of who you are.

Lucy Hicks Anderson knew who she was. She lived her truth and never wavered, despite the combined weight of the United States legal system, early twentieth-century social mores, and vicious racist attacks pressing in on all sides.

Lucy Hicks Anderson was a black woman born in a body that did not fit who she knew herself to be, and she was arguably the first American to go to court to defend her gender.

In 1886, a beautiful baby was born to the Lawson family in Waddy, Kentucky. While this child was identified at birth as male, from a very young age she knew that she was a girl and insisted on being treated as such. The young girl named herself Lucy and told her family that she would be wearing dresses to school. Confounded, Mrs. Lawson took little Lucy to the local doctor; he advised Lucy's mother to raise her as she would any little girl.

At that point in American history, any kind of understanding or discussion of transgenderism (being born into a body that does not conform to one's gender identity) was sadly lacking. This is not to say that transgender people did not exist before we had the words to describe them — far from it. But during Lucy's childhood in late nineteenth-century America, it was surprising, and fortunate, that her mother found a medical doctor willing to treat her daughter with the care and dignity that she deserved. Even today, the humanity of too many transgender children is denied because they are surrounded by people who are at best ignorant and at worst hateful and bigoted. Thankfully, Lucy's doctor and mother granted her the opportunity to live as the girl she knew herself to be.

At fifteen, she left school to become a domestic worker. For years she moved from place to place and job to job, working in a Texas hotel for a time and marrying her first husband, Clarence Hicks, in Silver City, New Mexico. She settled in Oxnard, California, a farming town about an hour up the coast from Los Angeles. Her culinary skills opened doors, and she began to cater elaborate parties for Oxnard's rich citizens. She reportedly even won contests for her delectable dinner rolls and fruitcakes. Anderson worked diligently, and the money she saved from her employment as a domestic worker, nanny, and cook allowed her to purchase some property. She bought a brothel — and that's what eventually led to her greatest trouble.

Anderson's brothel was in operation during Prohibition, the period between 1920 and 1933 when alcohol was illegal in America. As a brothel madam, Anderson had already fox-trotted over the lines of propriety, so she served her customers alcohol anyway. She was busted a few times, but she'd built up a great deal of social capital with the notable members of the community (and, we assume, blackmail-worthy information at the brothel), so she was able to escape any aggressive prosecution. Rumor has it that a wealthy banker posted her bail after one arrest so that she could cater his party that evening.


Excerpted from "History vs Women"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Anita Sarkeesian and Ebony Adams.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Trieu Thi Trinh, Third Century, Vietnam,
Mai Bhago, Eighteenth Century, India,
Lucy Hicks Anderson, Twentieth Century, United States,
Ida B. Wells, Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, United States,
Doria Shafik, Twentieth Century, Egypt,
Hypatia, Fourth and Fifth Centuries, Egypt,
Fatima al-Fihri, Ninth Century, Morocco,
Novella d'Andrea, Fourteenth Century, Italy,
Wang Zhenyi, Eighteenth Century, China,
Annie Easley, Twentieth Century, United States,
Isabel I, Fifteenth Century, Spain,
Moll Cutpurse, Seventeenth Century, England,
Ching Shih, Nineteenth Century, China,
Griselda Blanco, Twentieth Century, Colombia and United States,
Margaret Thatcher, Twentieth Century, United Kingdom,
Murasaki Shikibu, Eleventh Century, Japan,
Artemisia Gentileschi, Seventeenth Century, Italy,
Lois Weber, Twentieth Century, United States,
Maria Tallchief, Twentieth Century, United States,
Elizabeth Catlett, Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, United States and Mexico,
Khutulun, Thirteenth Century, Mongolia,
Ana de Urinza and Eustaquia de Sonza, Seventeenth Century, Peru,
Kati Sandwina, Twentieth Century, Austria and United States,
Jackie Mitchell, Twentieth Century, United States,
Bessie Stringfield, Twentieth Century, United States,

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