Copyright © 2008 Henrietta W. Hay
Uppity Women of the World, Unite!
May 30, 2008
Uppity Women of the World Unite!
There have always been world class female hell-raisers, but we haven't heard much about the early ones.
You may have thought that "uppity women" are a new phenomenon, of the 19th century women's movement. We think of women in the distant past as spending most of their time cleaning the cave, cooking for the gladiators, cleaning up after the elephants, and singing to Ulysses. Women have been almost completely ignored in the history books. But no more.
A number of books have been published in the past few years introducing us to women who have been uppity throughout history. My favorite is a series of "uppity Women" books by Vicky Leon.
Going much further back than our Victorian grandmothers, she takes us back to the beginning of recorded history, to female pirates (200 of them), pyramid builders, poets, poisoners and princesses.
There have always been uppity women -- real life women, not goddesses or literary fragments. Their names have not been lost, just mislaid or glossed over. Uppity women rocked as many cradles as the next woman, but they rocked a lot of boats as well.
The world's first author to be known by name was Enheduana, a poet and priestess who lived more than 4300 years ago in Sumer. Fifty clay tablets of one of her poems have been found. According to Leon, "After her nasty nephew chucked her out of office... Enheduana used her ouster as raw material for her work, proving again that the pen is mightier than the pink slip."
Uppity women often get accused of wearing the pants in the family. They were probably invented, not by Amelia Bloomer in the 19th century America, but by Semiramis 2,800 years ago. As Queen of Assyria she oversaw construction of a new system of canals and dikes which irrigated the flat land between the Tigris and the Euphrates. She was also a warrior. On one of her expeditions she came up with the pants prototype, her idea being that they made it harder to tell the women from the men. As camouflage or to ward off cold, pants became a fashion item--but it was the males who were mad for them.
In the Medieval times when, as Leon writes, "Uppityhood was in flower," we find Margaret of Scandinavia. Daughter of a Danish Princess, she was a real wheeler-dealer with a big brain. When her five year old son ascended to the throne in 1387 she finagled her way to become regent. During her rule she combined Sweden, Norway and Denmark and ruled them strongly and wisely as a nation for 25 years.
A group of French women in Renaissance days did an early version of signature gathering for petitions.
The Ladies Peace was signed in 1529 by Queen Louise of Savoy and Margaret of Austria. The peace didn't last very long, but what's new?
Many centuries later, in the new land of America, we have the uppitiest woman of the new 21st century. For the first time, a woman is making a serious bid for the presidency of the United States, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Whether you like and admire her, or whether you dislike and disapprove of her, the fact remains that she has opened a vitally important door for women. As of this writing I do not know what is going to happen, but whatever it may be women of the future can thank her for proving that fight is possible, that it is worth the cost for women. She has crashed through the glass ceiling and the hole is there to stay.