Traditional gender roles have existed in human societies for thousands of years. Many cultures have restricted women’s roles to focus on children and the household. It was not believed women needed education or to be involved in public life. Thankfully, that’s changed. Plenty of women throughout history have bucked the norms and defied gender roles to leave behind impressive legacies and history. The 25 women in this list (nowhere near complete – there are thousands of women who deserve to be here) were extraordinary for their times. Whether it be effectively ruling over the Roman Empire, pushing forward the boundaries of cytogenetics, or actively participating on countless battlefield, these women were pioneers and changed the hearts and minds of those around them. By refusing to accept traditional norms of what a woman should or shouldn’t do, they started dismantling the gender roles they so arduously fought against. Derive some inspiration from these 25 women who defied gender roles and made history.
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Most Americans know bits of the story of Sacagawea, a Lemhi Shoshone Native American woman who helped Lewis & Clark in their westward expedition. What’s especially amazing about this woman is her true importance in American history – without a clever and tactile woman like Sacagawea in their presence, Lewis and Clark would likely have been seen as aggressive and attacked. (And when their boats overturned on the Missouri River, Sacagawea rescued their journals and notes from the waters, all while pregnant.)
Eleanor of Aquitane
Eleanor of Aquitane was one of the most powerful persons in Europe during the High Middle Ages. Beyond being Queen of England (married to King Henry II), she was previously Queen of France (married to Louis VII) and had considerable influence on both countries during her reigns. Eleanor was even the acting head of state while her son English King Richard I went on the Third Crusade.
Jeannette Pickering Rankin
Jeannette Pickering Rankin was elected as the first female member of Congress even before women across America could vote (women could already vote in about 40 states). A Representative elected both in 1916 and 1940, Rankin noticed she was “the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote.” Now that’s a way to defy gender roles!
Seen as the grandmother of the Israeli state, Golda Meir was referred to by then-Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion as “the best man in the government”. Later becoming Prime Minister, Meir was one of the major contributors to the Jewish state’s foundation, even raising $50 million from American Jews and negotiating between the Jews and the British Mandate in Palestine.
Voted the greatest black Briton in 2004, Mary Seacole cared for sick British soldiers during the Crimean War. Though the British Army refused to admit her to the war effort due to being a woman, Seacole went to the battlefront anyways to help the sick and wounded. The soldiers she cared for later raised money for her when she lacked funds.