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The ancient world was the beginning of new development for humankind. Art and written documents began to emerge and humans were starting to leave a permanent mark on the Earth as well. Not only did this period bring prosperity and good fortune for some, however, a darker side included the mistreatment and discrimination of women. Women were looked down upon by men and were viewed as fragile and weak and not worthy of the same rights that men had. Women were only seen as a means to bring life into the world and provide relief for men. The pieces of art that were selected reflect women who refused to bow down to this negative interpretation of womankind. Pharaoh Hatshepsut, Queen Nefertiti, Queen Boudica, and Joan of Arc have shown society how one person, one woman, can accomplish many achievements and make a difference for herself and her people. These women, each in their own, individual approach, stood firm and took a stance in the man’s world that they found themselves in. They were brave, heroic, outspoken, and often reviled for what they stood for. Still, they managed to leave a mark historically and in the art world. Their lives and stories allow the modern world a glimpse into the struggles and hardships that accompany the desire for equality. These women represented the beginning of feminism and its roots trace back to the ancient world.
Pharaoh Hatshepsut, one of only three female pharaohs, rose to power and claimed the Egyptian throne, going against tradition and fighting for her right to be the ruler. Her people tried to oppose her. The concept of a woman as a public leader while possessing the powers of a king, with no man to hold her back, frightened the people. Hatshepsut knew she could not garner the respect of her people as a woman so she chose to depict herself as a man. She did not back down when faced with hatred and contempt from her people, choosing instead to rise above the resentment and rule successfully for two decades.
Queen Nefertiti, although not a pharaoh of Egypt, had the respect of her husband, Akhenaten, and was displayed as his equal in many sculpture reliefs. This is unusual because most women of this era were depicted at 1/10th the size of the husbands’ image, i.e. Rameses II. The healthy relationship between husband and wife reflects the fact that she had self-awareness and personal power that allowed her to build a balanced relationship with her husband, even though it was atypical in the society that they lived in.
Queen Boudica of Iceni, a widowed woman after her husband died, led a rebellion against Rome, attempting to retake her kingdom after the Romans raped and abused her daughters. No longer would she remain seated as her people were overtaken and slaughtered by the Roman soldiers. By herself, she led thousands of her people into battle against the Romans, showing bravery and courage, proving that women are just as capable of being warriors as men are. Although she was defeated in the end, her legacy remains and Boudica represented the struggles women suffer through for equality and freedom from oppression.
Joan of Arc, a maiden girl from France, made it her mission to free France from the tyrannical reign of the English and instill the rightful heir to the throne. Similar to Hatshepsut, she dressed as a man to carry out her plans to take back France from the English, since women were not respected or seen as warriors. Only a young woman, Joan of Arc symbolizes the will of the French people and the courage it took to fight back and against English tyranny.
All four of the women above represent the remarkable effects of a person who decides to take a stand against invaders, injustice, and abuse. Not only did they achieve their goals, but they also inspired other women that it was possible to make a difference in a culture that is overwhelmingly male-dominated. These women were leaders in their own right and time and were role models for future generations of women who found themselves in similarly intolerable positions. These women were symbols of the incredible progress and effectiveness one person can make when they take a stand for what they believe in.
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